It’s over. That’s what Donald Trump declared after sweeping Tuesday’s primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. And he has a point. Trump won all 5 primaries decisively, carrying majorities ranging from 55% in Maryland to 63% in Rhode Island. Ted Cruz, who was mathematically precluded from winning a majority of delegates before the Republican convention, but remains Trump’s nearest rival placed third in 4 of the 5 races placing behind the hapless John Kasich. It was Kasich’s strongest showing since winning his home state of Ohio on March 15th. And it was Cruz’s weakest.
At least since Trump’s victories on Super Tuesday back on March 1st, anti-Trump Republicans have been pursuing a strategy of frustrating Trump’s candidacy by denying him an outright majority before the convention. After Marco Rubio’s campaign collapsed they gave up trying get behind a candidate who could beat Trump outright. The second stage of this plan involves pooling the delegates won by all of the other candidates – or poaching Trump’s delegates – and using them to choose a nominee other than Trump on the second ballot. That such a cynical strategy is being pursued at all speaks volumes about the sorry state of affairs in Republican politics.
The strategy is predicated upon the assumption that party leaders have a right – they have argued it is a duty – to thwart the expressed will of Republican voters. It also proves beyond doubt the suspicions of many Trump supporters – and not a few Cruz folks – that party insiders and conservative elites view the GOP as their private property to do with as they please. Voters are just there for window dressing at election time. With millions flowing in from a handful of super-wealthy donors they don’t even need the rank and file for money.
But in a reversal of Marx’s famous epigram, what began as farce may end as tragedy. For all of the backroom meetings, furious denunciations, and defiant tweets, it’s over. Donald Trump will almost certainly become the nominee whether or not he gets to 1,237 delegates before the convention. He will certainly go to Cleveland as the front runner and even in a worst case scenario between now and the final primary in California on June 7th he will be close, very close to a majority. And Ted Cruz will be a distant second having won hundreds fewer delegates and millions fewer votes. Any attempt to deny Trump the nomination under those circumstances would be such a naked power grab that it would shock the sensibilities of a majority of Republicans and destroy the party. That’s the tragedy. And it won’t happen.
At this point, Ted Cruz and his anti-Trump enablers are on Plan “C” or possibly “D” or even “E” – it’s hard to keep track anymore – and it boils down to getting John Kasich to encourage his Indiana supporters to vote Cruz. Again, the strategy is not that Cruz should win 1,237 delegates, just that he should deny Trump. Then, in Cruz’s estimation, he will be awarded the nomination on the second ballot by virtue of placing second with voters. It sounds like the plot of an episode of House of Cards that was ditched as too absurd. But it’s the plan the smart guys in the Republican Party are running with.
Faced with destroying the party, handing the White House to Hillary Clinton, and a bloodbath in down ballot races, elected Republicans will unite behind Donald Trump. They have no choice. He has the support of a large plurality, if not an outright majority of Republicans now and most of those supporting other candidates would support Trump over Hillary. It’s mostly political professionals who loathe Trump – journalists, think tankers, consultants, and academics. That small but noisy segment of the party has driven much of the conversation until now. But as the general election grows closer reality will set in for those who answer to voters. Elected Republicans – those closest to the people – will support Trump’s nomination. And they will drive the effort to unite the party and defeat Hillary Clinton. The people speak and their elected representatives listen. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.